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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Season Of Chestnuts


Once again, it is chestnut season in Italy.

I have such wonderful memories of autumns in Stresa, and when I think of autumns in Stresa I think also of chestnuts. I first noticed the abundance of chestnuts when hiking on a trail in the hills above the town, aptly named the Sentiero dei Castagni, the Chestnut Trail. I could have filled bushels with them as we walked; instead, I settled for a handful in my pocket, my very first chestnuts picked up from the very ground they fell on; I still have those few as souvenirs. And so, since that time, it's not the fancy restaurant dishes prepared with chestnuts that I recall the most fondly, it's the simple events, the ones that have involved roasted chestnuts.

Of course you'll find chestnuts here on the Sentiero dei Castagni.

Here in Stresa several different groups organize chestnuts roastings in the piazzas and therefore there will be chestnuts to be enjoyed for several successive weekends. The fire department of Stresa organizes the largest roasting, with many pans at the same time set up along the lake near the Stresa imbarcadero. The Gruppo Alpini have arranged for another, in Piazza Marconi...

These firemen in Stresa give me smoky thumbs up for chestnuts.

I was in Mergozzo a different autumn day when they had their event. It was smaller of course, with a couple of large fires roasting near the lake. Above it, as an extra added attraction, a tight cable strung across the corner of the lake offered harness rides from one side to the other. I sat in my favorite spot in the birreria while the people sailed over our heads and the smoke rose from the roasting pans.

Can you imagine how many chestnuts they plan to roast in Mergozzo with that pile of wood?

But my favorite chestnut festival of all was my first, the one in the town of Coimo, in the Valle Vigezzo. This was the largest festival by far that I've been to, as it was more of a regional fair for the string of small villages in the valley. Underneath a large, red tent, rows of picnic tables were arranged. Along the side were the longest grills I've ever seen. On them were cooking the biggest ribs I've ever seen. And there was wine flowing, you could bring your glass or an empty bottle to the counter where it would be filled from nameless vats of red wine. Children from the town, all wearing chestnut festival t-shirts, sold the bags of fresh and very hot chestnuts on another side of the tent. We had a pile of ribs, and a huge bag of castagne which we tore open a bit in the center of the table. These were the first chestnuts I ate, ever, perhaps for this they are my favorite. More likely though it is the memory of the fun of sitting at the long table in the big red tent, filled with the smoky smell of ribs and chestnuts, the sound of people cracking them open all around me and laughter. An overabundance, and not only of chestnuts...




At Coimo, so much food and fun, all for Chestnuts.

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